Creating new worshipping communities.
Providing leadership opportunities for young adults.
Focusing outward, rather than on internal bureaucratic concerns.
Finding ways to use the gifts of older Presbyterians and those in existing congregations. (The median age of Presbyterians now is 61).
The council spent time Sept. 23 brainstorming about strategic ideas on which the council might focus. Its members are full of possibilities – but also cognizant of the gap between having good ideas and being the kind of church where these hopes actually play out.
Former General Assembly moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow, for example, challenged the PC(USA) to go beyond just saying it wants to provide more opportunities for young adults. To attract young adults, he said, do work they care about – including calling for social justice and having a voice in the public square. When Troy Davis was executed in Georgia on Sept. 21, Reyes-Chow said, “our church made no statement about that.”
And Melissa DeRosia, a pastor from Rochester, N.Y., encouraged Presbyterians to look for bridges between the generations – not to separate them into young and old.
While many Presbyterians are older, “they’re not dead yet,” DeRosia said. “We keep creating these disconnects between the generations,” instead of bridging them to work together.
The council also took care of some specific items of business during its meeting in Louisville Sept. 21-23.
The council voted to start the process of changing its name – something it needs to do because, under the denomination’s new Form of Government, the word “council” is reserved specifically for governing bodies.
The council will ask the 2012 General Assembly for permission to change its name so the elected council would be known as the “Presbyterian Mission Agency Board” and the denomination’s national staff as the “Presbyterian Mission Agency.”
After some discussion, the council voted down an alternate proposal of “Presbyterian Mission” for the elected board and “Presbyterian Mission Board” for the staff. Some presbytery and synod leaders had worried that language might make it seem as though the denomination does all its mission work at the national level – not through the grassroots church, said the council’s chair, Michael Kruse.
The council named a new online journal, Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice, as the successor to the former print magazine Church & Society, which was discontinued in a cost-cutting move several years ago. The journal is produced by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
In February, the council will formally consider a recommendation from the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee regarding the possibility of the PC(USA) divesting in three companies doing business in Palestine-Israel.
MRTI wants the 2012 General Assembly to add to its divestment list Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, all companies that MRTI contends profit from “non-peaceful” use in Israel-Palestine of products they sell.
Speaking to a council committee Sept. 22, Brian Ellison – a pastor from Kansas City who is chair of the MRTI Committee – stressed that in making the recommendation the committee is following the lead of the General Assembly. The 2010 General Assembly denounced Caterpillar for profiting from the sale of its bulldozers, which MRTI says the Israelis have used to knock down Palestinian homes. Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions sell communications equipment used by the Israel Defense Forces in the occupation of Palestinian territories.
The assembly also has urged MRTI to follow a process of corporate engagement with firms prior to recommending divestment. Ellison told the committee that MRTI and other faith-based partners in socially responsible investing have made extensive but ineffective efforts to communicate, meet and negotiate with each of the corporations involved.
“We have tried to give everything we could to dialogue,” without success, Ellison told the Justice Committee. “There is not likely to be change.”
Ellison said of the recommendation for divestment: “This is a last resort. You lose your voice in the process when you are no longer a shareholder. This truly is the last resort.”
Ellison and Roger Gench, a council member from Washington, D.C. who is moderator of the Justice Committee, plan to travel in October to Peoria, Ill., where Caterpillar has its corporate headquarters, to meet with the Presbytery of Great Rivers to discuss the divestment proposal.